Archive for the ‘Space News’ Category

Starman coming your way. Image credit: SpaceX

 

A Tesla roadster is headed for a possible speeding ticket as it is cruising toward Earth at nearly 6,000 miles per hour.

On February 6, 2018 SpaceX launched the automobile on a Mars-crossing orbit.

 

 

But the car may hit the Earth… sometime within the next 15 million years – so don’t panic.

Random walk

Hanno Rein is at the University of Toronto’s Department of Physical and Environmental Sciences in Canada.

Rein and colleagues in 2018 wrote “The random walk of cars and their collision probabilities with planets” – as published in the journal, Aerospace.

Dummy-carrying Tesla served as a dummy payload for the Falcon Heavy test flight.

They investigated the fate of the Tesla Roadster launched by SpaceX, with a caveat. “On timescales significantly longer than a century, continued close encounters will render precise long-term predictions of the object’s chaotic orbit impossible.”

First close encounter

Rein’s assessment implies the dynamical half-life of the Tesla to be 15 million years, similar to near Earth asteroids decoupled from major escape routes from the main belt.

On its celestial highway, the Tesla has been out and about for over six years.

According to Ben Pearson at Whereisroadster.com, the Tesla’s location is 64,332,500 miles from Earth, moving toward Earth at a speed of 5,849 miles per hour.

The roadster’s first close encounter, coming within a lunar distance of the Earth, will occur within the next 100 years, Rein and colleagues reported.

Image credit:
Roadster Tracker/Ben Pearson

 

 

 

 

Arguably, that’s just in time for a SpaceX Starship to rendezvous with the Sun-baked electric sports car for a battery charge!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To keep an eye on the space jaunting Tesla, go to:

https://www.whereisroadster.com/

For the paper — “The random walk of cars and their collision probabilities with planets” – go to:

https://www.mdpi.com/2226-4310/5/2/57

Shenzhou-17 space station crew in celebration mood.
Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

 

The Spring Festival, which centers around the Chinese New Year, is being celebrated by China’s Shenzhou-17 space station crew: The Year of the Dragon

Festive decorations have been placed inside the Tiangong space station.

Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

 

 

Chinese astronauts Tang Hongbo, Tang Shengjie, and Jiang Xinlin pasted Spring Festival couplets on the walls of the station’s Tianhe core module, the Wentian experimental module, and the Mengtian experimental module.

Traditional New Year’s Eve dinner had the crew consume festive food such as dumplings, osmanthus cheese rice cakes, and other favorite snacks.

Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

In good health

This marks the third time that Chinese astronauts have celebrated the Spring Festival in space, far from Earth, following the Shenzhou-13 and Shenzhou-15 missions of the previous two years.

“After having been in orbit for more than 100 days, the entire astronaut crew is in very good working condition, physical and mental condition, and are in good health,” Wang Chunhui, deputy chief designer of astronaut system at the China Astronaut Research and Training Center told China Central Television (CCTV).

“They will resume work on the fourth day of the Chinese New Year and make a lot of preparations in advance for the following extravehicular missions and some on-orbit experiments,” said Wang.

The now-orbiting Shenzhou-17 crew was launched on Oct. 26 last year, with the three crew members assigned a six-month mission aboard the Tiangong space station.

Go to video at:

https://fb.watch/qa74u6KJ9j/

China space station is captured in this photo taken by the departing Shenzhou-16 crew.
Image credit: CMS

Image acquired by Curiosity’s Left Navigation Camera on Sol 4088, February 5, 2024.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover at Gale Crater is now performing Sol 4049 duties.

Amelie Roberts, a graduate student at Imperial College London, reports that Curiosity had a recent and successful imaging-based stint providing geologists new looks of Gediz Vallis Ridge and surrounding buttes as the imagery is downlinked to Earth.

Curiosity also completed a drive of roughly 40 feet (13meters), “an achievement considering the terrain,” Roberts adds.

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Left B image acquired on Sol 4093, February 10, 2024.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

New workspace

The robot has approached its new workspace with a closer view of Gediz Vallis Ridge and a large wind-blown ridge “which is either a Transverse Aeolian Ridge (TAR), a wind-formed mound of sand smaller than a dune, or maybe a megaripple,” Roberts points out.

The targeted part of the plan the first sol (Sol 4089) was very sand-focused.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 4093, February 10, 2024.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“While widespread on Mars, TARs and megaripples are much rarer on Earth,” Roberts reports, “so we seize any opportunity to study these features up-close and in situ.”

Sand target

Most of the “opportunistic science time” of the rover was planned to be spent imaging the sand target, named “Knapsack Pass”, with an extensive 32 frame Mastcam mosaic and a Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) passive raster to improve our understandings of its chemistry and formation, Roberts explains.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 4093, February 10, 2024.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“We also continued our investigation of the layered sulfates,” Roberts adds.

The recent plan calls for contact science, using the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) and the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) to target sulfate bedrock, “Willow Springs”, a ChemCam Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) to target flakey sulfate bedrock, “Triple Falls”, and planned Mastcam coverage of a small bowl-shaped depression in the sulfates, “Elinore Lake”.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 4093, February 10, 2024.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Imaging campaign

“Even after all of these activities, there was still enough time to work towards our other science goal, the imaging campaign of Gediz Vallis ridge, through capturing part of the ridge with both ChemCam and Mastcam coverage,” Roberts says.

After a short drive, the untargeted part of the plan on the second sol (Sol 490) will be focused on some environmental science-theme group activities.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager photo produced on Sol 4093, February 10, 2024.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager photo produced on Sol 4093, February 10, 2024.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“At the moment, on Mars, we’re in dust storm season so the environmental scientists are keeping their eyes out on all things dust, Roberts concludes. “This means that planning is focused on dust devil movies and surveys. We finished off the plan with one of ChemCam’s automated AEGIS (Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science) activities.”

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 4093, February 10, 2024.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Image credit: S.D.Katz/Infinity Fuel Cell & Hydrogen Inc.

The Moon calls!

But setting up a future lunar outpost to sustain long-term crews there is an energy-hungry undertaking.

One eye-catching concept is regenerative fuel cell energy systems, the ability, for one, to energize a Moon base through the 14-earthday-long and super-cold lunar night.

Infinity Fuel Cell & Hydrogen Inc. of Windsor, Connecticut began work with NASA in 2020 to develop the fuel cell component for a Moon-situated system. 

Payload carrying New Shepard (NS-24) capsule nears touchdown.
Image credit: Blue Origin

Suborbital trial run

Power and energy for extreme operating environments, like space and underwater – require rugged, compact and gravity-independent solutions, the company’s website explains. “Why do we operate in extreme environments first? If you can do it there, you can do it anywhere.”

The company recently took part in Blue Origin’s New Shepard (NS-24) West Texas launch under a NASA-sponsored Tipping Point program. That suborbital, uncrewed flight on December 19 carried 33 payloads from NASA, academia, research institutions, and commercial companies.

Initial indications, according to Infinity, are that “the system generated required power throughout the entire flight as designed, even operating in three minutes of microgravity.”

Artemis explorers at the Moon.
Image credit: NASA

Scalable modular system

Flown onboard New Shepard was Infinity’s NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate-funded, Advanced Modular Power and Energy System (AMPES) Tipping Point fuel cell experiment.

Earlier, on September 12, 2022, AMPES operated on Blue Origin’s NS-23 suborbital launch, despite an anomaly that cut that mission short. 

“The AMPES system is a scalable modular system that employs Infinity’s patented non-flow through, air-independent fuel cell technology,” a company statement explains. “The technology could be used to power landers, rovers, surface equipment and habitats on the Moon or Mars.”

To view a video design by S.D.Katz showing a conception — not an actual NASA design — of a future Moon base being powered by a combination of solar power and hydrogen fuel cell power, go to:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rijXZNGQg6Y

For more information on Infinity Fuel Cell & Hydrogen Inc., go to:

https://infinityfuel.com/

Image credit: SpaceX

That secretive mission of the U.S. Space Force X-37B, lofted into a classified orbit by a SpaceX Falcon Heavy booster last December has been spotted by eagle-eyed satellite trackers.

This novel space trek of the winged craft is dubbed Orbital Test Vehicle-7 (OTV-7).

U.S. military’s X-37B space plane is encapsulated in launch faring and features the United States Space Force (USSF) logo for the first time.
Image credit: Boeing

Classified doings

A recent posting by Tomi Simola, a sky watching hobbyist in Finland, captured the craft’s whereabouts.

“OTV 7 found!” Simola wrote, sharing his observations with a global family of equipment-running members of the SeeSat-L community.  SeeSat-L is a mailing list for visual satellite observers.

The classified doings of the maneuverable X-37B has apparently reached new heights, zooming from 200 miles at its closest to Earth, outward to over 24,000 miles at its highest point – at least for now.

This X-37B craft is in a 59.1 degree inclined highly elliptical orbit. 

Image credit: Tomi Simola

For an excellent story on this sighting, go to Stephen Clark’s article at Ars Technica at:

https://arstechnica.com/space/2024/02/us-militarys-elusive-spaceplane-apparently-found-by-sleuthing-enthusiast/

Also, go to this earlier informative video from Shelby Holliday at the Wall Street Journal at:

https://youtu.be/pXyIT_GWIYE?si=FOTssaHyTjh08xED

Image credit: Tomi Simola

Distinctive mission

This mission of the U.S. military’s unique X-37B robotic space plane is decidedly distinctive.

For the first time, the Boeing-built craft was hurled spaceward atop a SpaceX Falcon Heavy booster, “with a wide range of test and experimentation objectives,” explains a U.S. Space Force press statement. Reportedly OTV-7 is the fourth flight of this particular craft; there are believed to be only two vehicles for the program.

OTV-6 in-space photo. Image credit: Boeing/Inside Outer Space screengrab

The past flights of an X-37B made use of the Atlas V 501 launcher for the most part, although OTV-5 was placed in orbit via a SpaceX Falcon 9 Block 4 launcher.

New orbital regimes

The Department of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, in partnership with the United States Space Force, launched the vehicle on December 28 from Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

Image credit: Boeing/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Designated USSF-52, the space plane tests include operating in new orbital regimes, experimenting with future space domain awareness technologies, and investigating the radiation effects on materials provided by NASA.

A previous flight, OTV-6, was the first mission to introduce a service module that expanded the capabilities of the spacecraft.

“We are excited to expand the envelope of the reusable X-37B’s capabilities, using the flight-proven service module and Falcon Heavy rocket to fly multiple cutting-edge experiments for the Department of the Air Force and its partners,” said Lt. Col. Joseph Fritschen, the X-37B Program Director.

Hotfooting back to Earth

Given the X-37B’s jaunt to high orbit, what about its return and the speed the vehicle is cruising? In particular, is the craft outfitted with a different reentry tile system than earlier flights?

I asked noted space tracker Marco Langbroek what’s up with this craft getting back down to Earth. He’s a lecturer in optical Space Situational Awareness (SSA) at Delft Technical University, the Netherlands.

Reentry tiles as seen from earlier X-37B mission.
Image credit: Boeing

Previous OTV missions in Earth orbit are slower than its velocity at high Earth orbit.

“It is about 2.5 kilometers per second above the speed of previous missions, so definitely significantly higher,” Langbroek told Inside Outer Space. “We do not know if the X-37B heat-shield and structural integrity can handle that – perhaps it can, perhaps it cannot.”

But one way for this X-37B vehicle to de-orbit for landing on Earth, Langbroek said, would be to first do a burn to lower apogee around Earth and circularize the orbit, before de-orbiting.

“That brings the speed down to the speed of earlier missions. A vehicle like the OTV can use aerobraking once in perigee and at the top of the atmosphere, making use of atmospheric drag, to circularize the orbit at low Earth orbit altitude, and then de-orbit from there,” Langbroek said.

OTV-6 return. Image credit: Boeing/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Details: skimpy and classified

Since the X-37B first launched in 2010, Boeing has empowered the reusable spaceplane “with more capability, new technology, and pushed the boundaries of what’s possible with each ensuing mission,” the company points out.

OTV-6, after circling Earth for a record-setting 908 days — completed that mission with a successful landing at Kennedy Space Center on November 12, 2022.

As in previous missions, details of the OTV-7’s in-space agenda are skimpy and classified.

A Space Force statement did note that the NASA experiment onboard will expose plant seeds to the harsh radiation environment of long-duration spaceflight. Known as “Seeds-2,” that investigation is paving the way for future crewed space missions.

OTV-6 was the first mission to introduce a service module that expanded the capabilities of the spacecraft.
Image credit: Staff Sgt. Adam Shanks

Service module

As explained in the Air Force statement, the last space plane flight, OTV-6, was the first mission to introduce a service module that expanded the capabilities of the spacecraft.

That module hosted more experiments than any of the previous space plane missions. In the OTV-6 flight, the service module was detached in orbit from the space plane before its landing, necessary due to the aerodynamic forces seen by the X-37B vehicle upon re-entry.

Once detached, the free-floating service module was later disposed of “in compliance with best practices,” according to the Air Force.

First use technologies

In past Boeing-supplied information, the company says the X-37B is designed to operate in low-Earth orbit, 150 to 500 miles above the Earth.

Additionally, the vehicle makes use of several “first use in space” technologies including:

— Avionics designed to automate all de-orbit and landing functions.

— Flight controls and brakes using all electro-mechanical actuation; no hydraulics on board.

— Use of a lighter composite structure, rather than traditional aluminum.

— New generation high-temperature wing leading-edge tiles and toughened uni-piece fibrous refractory oxidation-resistant ceramic (TUFROC) tiles and advanced conformal reusable insulation (CRI) blankets.

X-37B handout.
Credit: Boeing

Flight roster

Here’s a listing of previous flights of the space plane:

OTV-1: launched on April 22, 2010 and landed on December 3, 2010, spending over 224 days on orbit.

OTV-2: launched on March 5, 2011 and landed on June 16, 2012, spending over 468 days on orbit.

OTV-3: launched on December 11, 2012 and landed on October 17, 2014, spending over 674 days on-orbit.

OTV-4: launched on May 20, 2015 and landed on May 7, 2015, spending nearly 718 days on-orbit.

OTV-5: launched on September 7, 2017 and landed on October 27, 2019, spending nearly 780 days on-orbit.

OTV-6: Launched on May 17, 2020  and landed on November 12, 2022, circling Earth for 908 days.

This size chart shows how the Boeing-built X-37B robot space plane compares to NASA’s space shuttle, a larger version of the spacecraft called the X-37C and an Atlas 5 rocket.
Image: © AIAA/Grantz/Boeing/povided to Inside Outer Space via AIAA

Derivative plan?

There are known to be at least two X-37B vehicles.

Curiously, back in late 2011, a technical paper popped up at a major aerospace conference. It outlined new plans for the spacecraft and a scaled-up version to support space station cargo deliveries or even haul astronauts into orbit.

An X-37B OTV and derivatives plan assessment sketched out a variety of scaled-up versions of the X-37B space plane.

What is not known, however, is whether such a plan was advanced within Boeing or the Air Force.

Go to this informative Boeing video released last April, complete with head-banging, heavy metal music that offers a look at the OTV-6 mission at:

https://www.boeing.com/features/2023/04/x-37b-breaks-records-brings-home-experiments.page

Wait-a-Minute!
Image credit: Barbara David

 

There’s some interesting “wait a minute” fallout from the upcoming nose dive to Earth of the European Remote Sensing satellite, ERS-2.

According to the European Space Agency (ESA), the spent ERS-2 satellite weighing 2.3 tons is predicted to slip into Earth’s atmosphere on February 19 – with a current uncertainty of +/- 2.8 days.

“No intervention can be made from the ground, so ERS-2 will return entirely naturally – now a common occurrence as on average one spacecraft reenters Earth’s atmosphere per month,” an ESA statement explains.

The bit about “return entirely naturally” is an interesting, user-friendly substitute for “uncontrolled.”

Artwork of incoming ERS-2. Image credit: ESA

 

End of life

Following its launch in April 1995, ERS-2 ran for nearly 16 years of observing the Earth.

In 2011, ESA took the decision to bring the mission to an end.

That was followed by ground-activated de-orbit maneuvers. Those lowered the satellite’s average altitude and mitigated the risk of collision with other satellites or space debris, ESA notes.

The spacecraft was also “passivated” to reduce the risk of fragmentation. Passivated is getting rid of internally stored energy, like unused propellant, even de-charging batteries.

Wake-up call

All that said there are those that see the fall of ERS-2 as a calling card from space that doubles as a wake-up call – and on several fronts.

Netting of orbital debris has been studied, with ERS-2 as the catchable bait in a mix of junk-snatching ideas.
Image credit: ESA/D.Ducros

“While the ESA should be lauded for its efforts to de-orbit the ERS-2, it should be unsurprising that a 2.3-ton satellite launched into Earth orbit without any enforceable orbital debris regulation will then return to Earth’s atmosphere as orbital debris in an explosive uncontrolled reentry,” said Michael Runnels, an assistant professor of business law at California State University, Los Angeles.

“Indeed, these events highlight the continuing need for enforceable orbital debris regulation to support the sustainable exploration and scientific investigation of outer space,” Runnels told Inside Outer Space.

Someone someday

Ewan Wright is a PhD candidate at the University of British Columbia and Junior Fellow of the Outer Space Institute. He is actively focused on the sustainability of the outer space environment.

ERS-2 is a three decade old Earth Observation satellite with a mass about that of a Ford F-150, Wright said. “ERS-2 won’t burn up entirely when it reenters the atmosphere, so there is a chance that debris will hit someone on the ground, or disrupt air traffic.”

ERS-2 artwork.
Image credit: ESA

Wright told Inside Outer Space that, fortunately, the probability of someone getting hit is small. “But if we keep doing this again and again, someone someday will get hurt.”

Random reentries

Last year, 30 satellites larger than 500 kilograms uncontrollably reentered the atmosphere.

In total, in 2023, about 55 tons of satellite reentered randomly, Wright stated. ESA was responsible in lowering ERS-2’s orbit to make sure it didn’t become permanent space debris, he said.

“But in the future, all large satellites should do controlled reentries. Operators should control them to reenter over the oceans, away from people, aircraft and ships,” Wright concluded.

Minimize risk

The incoming ERS-2 is something that happens quite regularly with defunct satellites, said Leonard Schulz, a researcher at the Technische Universität Braunschweig’s Institute of Geophysics and Extraterrestrial Physics in Braunschweig, Germany.

Such falls will only increase in the future, Schulz added, due to the growing number of objects brought into low Earth orbit.

Image credit: NOAA

 

 

“I think the mass of the object stands out, probably some parts of the satellite will survive reentry,” Schulz told Inside Outer Space. “And this is the reason why people try to make satellites burn up completely in the atmosphere, to minimize the risk to people on ground.”

 

 

 

Atmospheric effects

Schulz said that there’s need to consider the effects on the atmosphere from spacecraft re-entry, a hot topic that ESA is evaluating.

“Today, we are lacking information on many aspects when it comes to materials released and subsequent effects on the atmosphere,” Schulz pointed out.

Satellite reentries are a good opportunity to gather observational data with measurement campaigns, Schulz advised. However, such uncontrolled reentries as with ERS-2 are extremely difficult to observe, he said, as the uncertainty of where the satellite reenters is so high.

“But controlled reentries provide great measurement opportunities,” Schulz concluded, “which should be a focus in the future!”

Taking the fall. Space hardware dives into Earth’s atmosphere with some fragments making their way to the ground.
Image credit: ESA/D.Ducros

Mars beckons. Human explorers can maximize the science output for unraveling the complex nature of the Red Planet.
Image credit: NASA/Pat Rawlings

The future of Mars exploration will be greatly enhanced by humans that make the sojourn to the Red Planet. Indeed, flesh and bone on that distant world far outstrips what mechanized Mars machinery can attain – but yes, certainly at far greater cost.

NASA is blueprinting a moon-to-Mars strategy that identifies science as one of three pillars upon which the agency’s quest for a sustained human exploration throughout the solar system is built.

The huge canyon that is Valles Marineris is arguably Mars’ most dramatic landscape and offers a scientific bonanza for future expeditionary crews.
Image credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum), CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

What’s now being plotting out is the architecture for achieving that goal.

Shoe-horning in science

Arguably, the science conducted on the surface of Mars by astronauts will have the most impact on the scope and scale of that architecture. Therefore, deciding on science priorities warrant early attention. 

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has experimented with virtual and mixed reality environments as ways to improve exploration of Mars.
Image credit: NASA/Human Centered Design Group at JPL

Recent history demonstrates the issue of shoe-horning in science tasks for astronauts too late.

That is a central message from a recent study for the Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group (MEPAG), one that suggests how and where on the Red Planet humans can maximize exploration and science output.

To read my new Space.com story – “Humans on Mars could conduct far better science than any machine: ‘It is important to think about what supporting instruments and technologies need to be developed now to equip our astronauts for doing outstanding science at Mars.'” – go to:

https://www.space.com/humans-on-mars-better-science-machine

Samples of asteroid Bennu are now in vials for intensive study at the University of Arizona.
Image credit: Chris Richards/University of Arizona Communications

Scientists are now inspecting snagged, bagged and tagged bits and pieces from asteroid Bennu, the cosmic mother lode delivered by NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security – Regolith Explorer mission.

It’s known in acronymic astro-speak as OSIRIS-REx.

Scientists are now inspecting snagged, bagged and tagged bits and pieces from asteroid Bennu, the cosmic mother lode delivered to Earth last year by NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security – Regolith Explorer mission.

View of the OSIRIS-REx Touch-and-Go-Sample-Acquisition-Mechanism (TAGSAM) head with balky lid removed, unveiling the bulk of asteroid Bennu sample inside.
(Image credit: NASA/Erika Blumenfeld/Joseph Aebersold

Export control

I caught up with two leading scientists at the Univ. of Arizona’s “extraterrestrial export control central” now engaged in extracting what those darkish asteroid particles are illuminating, sorting out how these materials exported from Bennu came to be. But also what insights they hold for the origin of the worlds within our solar system, including Earth.

Go to my new Space.com story – “1st look at asteroid Bennu samples suggests space rock may even be ‘a fragment of an ancient ocean world’ – at:

https://www.space.com/asteroid-bennu-osiris-rex-samples-1st-look-surprises

Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx’s principal investigator from the University of Arizona holds a mock up of the asteroid collection device – TAGSAM.
Image credit: Barbara David

Image credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/Simeon Schmauß

NASA’s now off-duty and damaged Mars helicopter has been spotted by the Perseverance rover, the final resting place among the sand ripples in Neretva Vallis.

Image credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/Simeon SchmaußA panorama has been assembled from six images taken by the rover’s right Mastcam-Z on Sol 1052.

Simeon Schmauß explains via X/Twitter that the images were up-scaled 2x and color processed to approximately match what the human eye would see.

 

 

 

After its 72nd flight on Jan. 18, 2024, NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter captured imagery of its rotor blades, damaged during touchdown.

NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover acquired this image using its Right Mastcam-Z camera, a pair of cameras located high on the rover’s mast. This image was acquired on Feb. 4, 2024 (Sol 1052).
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

Ingenuity’s color camera acquired these post-flight damage images using its high-resolution color camera mounted in the helicopter’s fuselage.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity’s location as of Sol 4083, with distance driven at that time: 19.47 miles/31.33 kilometers.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover at Gale Crater is now performing Sol 4086 duties.

Reports Sharon Wilson Purdy, a planetary geologist at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., Curiosity continues its investigation of the light and dark banded sulfate terrain and started a two-sol (Sols 4084-4085) planning day with several beautiful rocks within the reach of the rover’s robotic arm.

“The rover is tantalizingly close to the base of the upper Gediz Vallis ridge and the team is very excited for the spectacular geology ahead,” Purdy adds.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo acquired on Sol 4085, February 2, 2024.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Flakey dark material

Mars researchers kicked off planning for sol 4084 by analyzing a finely layered rock named “Grizzly Lakes” with the dust removal tool (DRT), the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) and Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) imaging.

Purdy explains that just beyond “Grizzly Lakes,” the robot’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) and its Mastcam teamed up to characterize a crescent-shaped rock, “Gorge of Despair,” to investigate flakey dark material standing in relief on the surface of the rock.

The Mastcam team created a mosaic of the workspace in addition to three mosaics that characterized the local bedrock and sand at “Roads End,” “Knapsack Pass,” and “Rae Lake.”

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 4085, February 2, 2024.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Small impact crater

Mastcam also took a mosaic of “Round Lake” to image what is likely a small impact crater, Purdy notes.

“We pushed the plan to the limit by including two long distance ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) images of a dark band in the distance, and an outcrop along the upper Gediz Vallis Ridge to characterize the variety of rocks,” Purdy reports.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 4085, February 2, 2024.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Lastly, Mars team members included a Navcam mosaic of the view behind the rover, Purdy adds, to document several of the layers and buttes in Chenapau, Orinoco, and Kukenan that Curiosity drove by in recent months. “And then we hit the road!”

Mouth-watering vantage point

On the schedule is a planned drive of 33 feet (10-meters) that will put Curiosity on a “topographic bench,” Purdy explains, “that should provide a mouth-watering vantage point to document a section of the upper Gediz Vallis ridge that is informally named ‘Fascination Turret.’ We hope to evaluate the processes that deposited the sediment in this ridge to understand how it formed and how it was later eroded to its present-day form.”

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 4085, February 2, 2024.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

 

On the plan for Sol 4085, Mars researchers scheduled a ChemCam AEGIS activity.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image acquired on Sol 4084, February 1, 2024.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Purdy explains that AEGIS is an acronym for Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science and is a mode where the rover identifies and selects a geological target from navigation camera images based on a set of guidelines set by scientists back here on Earth.

 

 

 

 

“Several environmental observations are included in the plan to monitor dust devil activity as well as zenith, suprahorizon, and Tau observations that will measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere,” Purdy concludes.

Curiosity Mast Camera (Mastcam) image produced on Sol 4084, February 2, 2024.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Mast Camera (Mastcam) image produced on Sol 4084, February 2, 2024.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS